Education

‘Reading Rainbow’ star brings storytime to Wichita students

LeVar Burton, of “Reading Rainbow” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fame, visited Earhart Elementary School on Monday morning and read several books to students, including “Enemy Pie,” along with his own book “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.” (Sept. 12, 2016)
LeVar Burton, of “Reading Rainbow” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fame, visited Earhart Elementary School on Monday morning and read several books to students, including “Enemy Pie,” along with his own book “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.” (Sept. 12, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

LeVar Burton knows how to get kids excited about books.

“Who likes to hear stories?” he asked students at Earhart Elementary School in Wichita on Monday.

“Me!” the children shouted in unison.

Burton, the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” actor and executive producer of the long-running PBS show “Reading Rainbow,” spent about an hour with students at Earhart, sharing his love of reading and learning.

His visit was made possible by the family of a former Earhart student who made a donation to Burton’s Kickstarter campaign to get “Reading Rainbow” interactive books and videos into more school libraries.

“The secret sauce at ‘Reading Rainbow’ has always been combining real-world experience with literature through the video field trip,” Burton said.

“The message being that the world is a place of infinite variety, and you only have to expose yourself to enough of it before you find your niche, where you belong.”

Earhart students wore rainbow colors in honor of Burton’s visit. They filed into the school’s gymnasium on Monday morning to hear the actor read and share several short videos from the “Reading Rainbow” library.

The first video, “I Love My Job Because,” featured Burton explaining that he loves his job “because I get to share my love of reading with lots of kids like you.”

Afterward, Burton picked up a bright red picture book.

“This is one of my favorite books in the whole world,” he said. “Would you like to hear it?”

The children replied with a resounding, “Yes!” and Burton launched into his signature introduction: “ ‘Enemy Pie,’ by Derek Munson – illustrations by Tara Calahan King.”

The story of a little boy who turns his No. 1 enemy into a new friend – with a little help from his pie-baking dad – had the Earhart kids smiling and laughing along with Burton’s animated voice.

Burton also read “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm,” telling the students “This book is by one of my absolute favorite authors – me.”

Earhart principal Chris Waterbury said he felt fortunate to host the well-known actor, who made his acting debut in 1977 when he played Kunta Kinte in the ABC drama series “Roots,” based on the novel by Alex Haley.

“I think it inspires kids to read,” Waterbury said. “It’s very important for them to see people like this and see the background that goes into making these wonderful books.”

“Reading Rainbow,” a half-hour television series that started in 1983, garnered more than 200 broadcast awards, including a Peabody Award and 26 Emmy Awards. Although PBS stopped airing the show in 2006, episodes continue to be popular in school classrooms through the website, video libraries and an iPad and Kindle Fire app that launched in 2012.

And who can forget that catchy theme song?

“Butterfly in the sky,

I can go twice as high.

Take a look, it’s in a book,

A reading rainbow.”

Earhart fourth-grader Carson Rapp said he enjoyed Burton’s visit, mostly because he’s a “Star Trek” fan and recognized Burton as Lt. Jr. Grade Geordi La Forge, the USS Enterprise’s chief engineer.

“I’ve watched some ‘Star Trek’ movies, so it was pretty awesome to see him in real life,” Carson said.

“But my favorite part was when he read us the stories. His new book his pretty cool.”

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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